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The Difference Between Branded and Unbranded Searches

branded search unbranded search
Courtesy of Solen Feyissa on Unsplash.

School marketing can be complicated! You’re in charge of branding your school – without brand recognition, your enrollment and prospects will become stagnant and your SEO efforts fall flat. For strong school SEO, you need to monitor the keywords being used in your audience’s internet searches; these search queries can either be branded or unbranded. When developing the SEO strategy for your small school, it’s important to contemplate how you will utilize branded and unbranded searches in your plan and how to adjust your SEO accordingly. For more information on the importance of keywords and keyword searches in your school SEO, check out our blog post. 

What does “branded” mean? 

A branded keyword is an internet search that includes variations of your business name that are unique to your domain. For clarification, branded keywords for Design TLC would be: 

  • DesignTLC
  • DesignTLC
  • DesignTLC blog 
  • DesignTLC website
  • DesignTLC schools 

Here’s an example of branded search queries for St. Martin’s In-the-Field Episcopal School. 

branded search
St. Martin’s In-the-Field Episcopal School branded search.

As you can see, all of the search queries say “St. Martins” but have different variations like “school,” “near me,” “Maryland,” or “Severna Park” at the end. St. Martin’s is uniquely branded in each search, but there are different variations that help narrow down the search for the user. 

Branded searches are the result of brand awareness and recognition. 99.9% of the time, your brand will show up as the top choice in internet searches for branded searches. Additionally, branded searches consistently have a higher conversion rate

How can a search be “unbranded”? 

The concept of an unbranded search is simple: if your brand name is not specifically in the search, it’s not branded (and this includes misspellings!). An unbranded search is more general in nature. For example, an un-branded search for a small, private school in Severna Park, Maryland would entail: 

  • small school maryland
  • severna park small school 
  • private school severna park 
  • schools in maryland 

Unbranded searches are important to monitor and analyze because many local internet searchers don’t already know about your brand and are searching for more general information. It’s important that your SEO is strong enough for your small school to still appear in unbranded searches; tracking unbranded keywords is a key way to gauge the health of your small school’s SEO and decide what elements need to be adjusted over time. 

Why is it important to know the difference? 

It is incredibly important to know the difference between branded and unbranded searches because they directly impact the performance of your SEO efforts. If you are just learning about branded and unbranded searches today, a good place to start tracking their performance is through Google Search Console or Google’s Keyword tracker, or using a tool like Ubersuggest

Should I use branded keywords, unbranded keywords, or both? 

A popular question is what provides better results: branded or unbranded searches? This is an especially common question for those implementing communications campaigns, as keyword research and certain keywords are a cost of the campaign budget. 

The correct answer is that it all depends on your goals. If your SEO goal is visibility and awareness, it’s best to focus on unbranded keywords and unbranded searches to maximize your appearance in internet search results. Unbranded keywords are naturally more competitive because everyone is fighting to rank for that specific keyword. Unbranded keywords are found and targeted through a data-driven keyword research process.

You can (and should!) rank more competitively with branded keywords because there are less competitors within the range of that particular keyword. Additionally, if your goals are to increase conversions, branded keywords are your best bet. If your school has a unique name in your area and you are not in the #1 or top SERPs (Search Results), you have a big problem!

All in all, your choice of branded or unbranded search keywords depends on your school’s SEO goals. Both are essential in SEO or campaign strategies. The first step toward utilizing keywords for your brand is establishing organic ratings for your branded keywords (optimize your homepage!) and then focusing your SEO efforts on the unbranded keywords. 

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